Plastic Pollution

July 2010 • Volume 4, Issue 7
Can the world solve the plastic waste problem?
By Robert Kiener

Introduction

Volunteers clean the banks of Costa Rica's Virilla River (AFP/Getty Images/Yuri Cortez)
Volunteers clean the banks of Costa Rica's Virilla River — one of the most polluted in Central America — on April 10, 2010. More than 60,000 plastic bottles were collected in three days. (AFP/Getty Images/Yuri Cortez)

To many, plastic is a modern-day miracle: versatile, cheap to produce and durable. To others it is a scourge: a ubiquitous, nondegradable pollutant that threatens to choke the global environment. The world uses more than 100 million tons of plastic annually but recycles less than 5 percent of it. The rest — plastic bags, water bottles, disposable lighters, take-out food packages and the like — can end up in the world's oceans and along shorelines. Plastic litter also clogs sewer systems causing deadly floods, chokes animals and contaminates fish with toxic chemicals, potentially endangering humans who eat the fish. Plastics take a toll on a wide range of animals, including cows in India, which die from starvation after clogging their stomachs with plastic bags they mistake for food. Whales, seals, sea birds and other marine animals die after eating floating plastic or becoming entangled in abandoned plastic fishing gear or six-pack holders. As plastic litter piles up around the globe, activists have begun to raise the alarm, and the world is finally taking notice. Cities, local jurisdictions and entire countries are banning, taxing and regulating plastic bags and other products. But some environmentalists worry the activism may be too late.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Dec. 02, 2016  Arctic Development
Apr. 22, 2016  Managing Western Lands
Jul. 18, 2014  Regulating Toxic Chemicals
Sep. 20, 2013  Future of the Arctic
Jun. 14, 2013  Climate Change
Nov. 06, 2012  Vanishing Biodiversity
Nov. 02, 2012  Managing Wildfires
Nov. 04, 2011  Managing Public Lands
Aug. 26, 2011  Gulf Coast Restoration
Jul. 2010  Plastic Pollution
Feb. 2010  Climate Change
Jan. 09, 2009  Confronting Warming
Dec. 05, 2008  Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Nov. 2008  Carbon Trading
Oct. 03, 2008  Protecting Wetlands
Feb. 29, 2008  Buying Green
Dec. 14, 2007  Future of Recycling
Nov. 30, 2007  Disappearing Species
Feb. 2007  Curbing Climate Change
Dec. 01, 2006  The New Environmentalism
Jan. 27, 2006  Climate Change
Oct. 25, 2002  Bush and the Environment
Oct. 05, 2001  Invasive Species
Nov. 05, 1999  Saving Open Spaces
Jun. 11, 1999  Saving the Rain Forests
May 21, 1999  Setting Environmental Priorities
Mar. 19, 1999  Partisan Politics
Oct. 16, 1998  National Forests
Jun. 19, 1998  Environmental Justice
Aug. 23, 1996  Cleaning Up Hazardous Wastes
Mar. 31, 1995  Environmental Movement at 25
Jun. 19, 1992  Lead Poisoning
May 15, 1992  Jobs Vs. Environment
Jan. 17, 1992  Oil Spills
Sep. 20, 1991  Saving the Forests
Apr. 26, 1991  Electromagnetic Fields: Are They Dangerous?
Sep. 08, 1989  Free Market Environmental Protection
Dec. 09, 1988  Setting Environmental Priorities
Jul. 29, 1988  Living with Hazardous Wastes
Dec. 20, 1985  Requiem for Rain Forests?
Aug. 17, 1984  Protecting the Wilderness
Jun. 15, 1984  Troubled Ocean Fisheries
Aug. 19, 1983  America's Disappearing Wetlands
Feb. 22, 1980  Noise Control
Nov. 16, 1979  Closing the Environmental Decade
Oct. 13, 1978  Toxic Substance Control
Feb. 27, 1976  Pollution Control: Costs and Benefits
Nov. 28, 1975  Forest Policy
May 30, 1975  Wilderness Preservation
Dec. 20, 1974  Environmental Policy
Nov. 14, 1973  Strip Mining
Dec. 01, 1971  Global Pollution
Jul. 21, 1971  Protection of the Countryside
Jan. 06, 1971  Pollution Technology
Jun. 19, 1968  Protection of the Environment
Oct. 30, 1963  Noise Suppression
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